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Written by Bryan Myers

Flooding has been a major concern throughout Pennsylvania this summer, especially in the Central and Eastern parts of the state. After several rounds of thunderstorm on August 13th, communities began to flood and houses became inundated with water. Montgomery County’s Department of Public Safety reported that the Pennsylvania Turnpike was closed between Valley Forge and Norristown. The Schuylkill Expressway and PA Turnpike were also shut down due to flooding in the county. Portions of Berks, Delaware, Lackawanna, Schuylkill, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties were particularly hard hit.

The Red Cross responded to the historic flooding in Delaware County by opening an evacuation center at the Darby Recreation Center for flood victims. Throughout the region, dozens of people fled the floodwaters into Red Cross shelters, which were opened in coordination with community partners.

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As water levels receded, the Red Cross focus shifted to distributing emergency supplies, serving meals and working one on one with affected families.  In the first week alone, Red Cross volunteers served more than 2,100 meals and snacks and distributed hundreds of clean up kits and other flood related supplies.

Five emergency response vehicles were deployed to the hardest-hit areas where volunteers could hand out food and emergency supplies door to door. Disaster Assessment teams were sent out to traverse neighborhoods while caseworkers went door to door to talk with affected families, providing more than 75 of them with assistance.

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To be prepared for flood emergencies, the Red Cross recommends assembling an emergency preparedness kit and creating a household evacuation plan. You should ensure that you have access to NOAA radio broadcasts and keep insurance policies in a safe-deposit box or with pictures on a flash drive. Remember to take precautionary measures for your pets by downloading the Red Cross Pet First Aid app.

Home protections might include raising your water heater or electric panels to higher floors, the addition of flood barriers around your house and waterproofing the walls in your basement. Check with your local municipality about the availability of sandbags prior to a flood watch or warning.

You can read more about flood safety from the Red Cross by visiting the Red Cross Flood Safety website. Stay up to date with the latest alerts with the Red Cross Emergency App for iPhone or Android.

Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management offers flood safety awareness with an outline of flooding hazards. At the state and federal level, a Pennsylvania Flooding Recovery Guide is also available.

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“I request that during that month (March) our people rededicate themselves to the splendid aims and activities of the Red Cross.”–President Franklin D. Roosevelt, first Presidential Proclamation of March as Red Cross Month, 1943

Each year the president of the United States proclaims March “Red Cross Month.” The Red Cross uses this opportunity to thank our supporters, increase public awareness and consideration of Red Cross’ mission and drive contributions.

The City of Philadelphia kicked off the month by flying Red Cross flags around City Hall. They were a beautiful site to see.

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While four back to back nor’easters were an unplanned surprise for March is Red Cross Month, the staff and volunteer of Red Cross Eastern PA were prepared.   We opened and supported more than half a dozen shelters and warming centers for more than 700 people affected by winter weather.

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Even with the bad weather and shelter openings, our volunteers continued to respond to the Red Cross’ most common emergency, home fires. Red Cross of Eastern PA volunteers responded to more than 100 emergencies and home fires during the month of March, assisting more than 450 people. We worked with the Philadelphia Fire Department to install smoke alarms and talk fire safety at three different neighborhoods where fatal fires occurred.

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Daylight Saving Time began and people lost an hour of sleep by turning the clocks forward. The Red Cross encouraged people to “Turn and Test” – Turn the clocks and test your smoke alarm.

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The Harlem Globetrotters named the Red Cross their “official charity” and we had the opportunity to raise funds and engage our volunteers at nearly 300 performances across the country. Our volunteers “passed the bucket” to collect donations from those attending games in Reading, Allentown, Philadelphia, and Wilkes-Barre.

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The Lehigh Valley-Bucks chapter gave a sneak peak of the upcoming 2018 Cabaret and Cuisine: Back to the 80s. Doc Brown even showed up to encourage people to attend the event held Friday April 20th at Olympus Headquarters in Center Valley.

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The Northeast chapter honored 19 local heroes at the NEPA Heroes celebration. The evening celebrated the prior year’s local heroes for using their First Aid, CPR, AED training and/or other actions to save lives or make Northeastern PA a better place to live and work.

Heroes NEPA

The Southeastern chapter hosted Philadelphia’s premier party and best black-tie charity gala, Red Ball. The evening was a big success with more than eleven hundred guests enjoying live entertainment, delicious delight from more than two dozen restaurants, a silent auction and much more at Lincoln Financial Field.

Red Ball

Red Cross Month wrapped up with Giving Day on March 28th. The Red Cross geared up for the big day, asking people to #help1family. Thousands responded and more than two million dollars was raised to help 28,000 families with urgent relief like food, shelter, and other essentials.

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It certainly was a busy month and that’s how we know we are fulfilling the mission of the Red Cross.

pleaseantville-halloween-5Looking back on the events two years ago when Superstorm Sandy was covering the almost the entire eastern Atlantic Ocean, I remember feeling astonished that the storm would actually turn toward the coast and make landfall in New Jersey. Hurricanes come north, of course, but not often and not with such threatening power. Were we ready? I suspected we weren’t, because how could we be? We tend to be “ready” for events we have already experienced. Sandy was unprecedented. Still, it was incredibly comforting to be a volunteer for the Red Cross. These were the folks who knew how to prepare and they were on the job.

I wrote, soon after the storm, about a friend who had texted me “Thank goodness for the Red Cross.”  Yes, indeed, for so many reasons. Here’s the rest of my 2012 blog post:

“What a week it’s been. Our job is to take care of the important stuff: shelter, food, comfort, survival. Currently, the Red Cross is sheltering close to 9,000 people in 171 Red Cross shelters across 13 states. Wow. . . Locally, close to 200 people (196) and 19 pets stayed the night in local SEPA Red Cross shelters in Montgomery, Bucks and Philadelphia Counties.

When I was in our offices last Thursday, I peeked in on a meeting of disaster preparedness personnel on the potential for a large hurricane to incapacitate the East Coast early the following week. At that point, the encounter between Sandy and the coast of New Jersey was still purely hypothetical and only one model was suggesting the storm would not turn safely out to sea. Even so, our staff was taking the situation seriously and beginning to make the preparations necessary to provide support and shelter should the worst case scenario occur. Thank goodness they did.

Needless to say, we’ve been moderately busy since then. At the height of the storm, we were ready with 14 shelters set up in five counties. We hosted a phone bank to answer storm related questions at a local television station. Tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, a Hurricane App and several media appearances by our CEO, Judge Renée Hughes, shared vital information with the citizens of Southeastern, Pennsylvania. We helped people prepare and they did. We encouraged them to “shelter in place” by staying home, staying off the streets and letting our public officials do their jobs. People listened and we made it through this.

For those forced to evacuate, we provided warmth with blankets, food, shelter and the companionship of volunteers and others in the same situation. We take comfort seriously and believe it helps everyone weather the storm. And with comfort in mind, we are proud to say that Halloween celebrations went ahead for several of our younger shelter residents at a shelter in Pleasantville, NJ. “

I remember feeling so moved by these Halloween festivities. It’s so important to help children feel a sense of normalcy when their entire world has been disrupted. I was proud to be a Red Cross volunteer on that day, and I still am.

UPDATED 5:30 pm 2/13/14:
The American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania has its volunteers on standby and has established shelter team in the event sheltering is needed due to the ongoing snow storm.  But as of 5:30 pm 2/13, that has NOT been necessary.

Staff and volunteers are staffing any open county and city Emergency Operation Centers and equipment has been prepositioned throughout the area to respond to any requests for assistance or sheltering.

If shelters do open, they will be listed below by county. Information will also include an address and if the shelter is pet friendly.

You can also follow updates on twitter, by following @redcrossphilly @telesara and @dcschrader.

And if you need your sidewalk or driveway shoveled Friday morning, let Uber Philly do the work. And all proceeds will benefit Red Cross disaster relief.

Visit here for info and details. http://blog.uber.com/ubershovel

Please keep these safety tips in mind if you do lose power during the storm.

Here are some tips to be safe during a winter storm.
Don’t forget about your pets, here are safety tips for your pets during a winter storm.
And, here are tips about preventing and thawing frozen pipes.

Thank you and keep warm.

The Red Cross

Cots set up last week at the shelter at West Chester University for residents affected by power outage. February 5, 2014

Cots set up last week at the shelter at West Chester University for residents affected by power outage. February 5, 2014

RCH and volunteers at Hatboro shelter

Red Cross Southeastern PA CEO Judge Renee Hughes visits a shelter in Montgomery County during the ice storm and power outage. February 7th, 2014

It was early (for a Saturday at least) when I got the call from Dave asking me to come to the shelter. He had been there all night and had fatherly duties he needed to fulfill. I was a little nervous as I had never been to an active shelter response and I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I got ready I scrolled through the Twitter feed that Dave had updated throughout the night. I had no idea the fire had affected so many people and it was just up the road from where I lived! Dave came out to meet me when I arrived at the shelter and updated me on the situation. Several of the displaced residents had found friends or family but around 20 remained. My job was to serve as the contact person if reporters wanted to interview a volunteer or client covering the Wyncote fire. I was also responsible for getting any new updates out to the public.

I ended up doing so much more than that.

Since it was my first time and I was hobbling around on crutches due to a fractured foot (from a sports injury) I wasn’t sure I would be able to help very much but I soon discovered that the Red Cross provides so much more than basic necessities. It provides human comfort and compassion in the face of disaster.

While I waited to hear back from a reporter I started to talk with another volunteer, Greg. We got on the subject of basketball, which as a Dallas Mavericks fan I was happy to commiserate with an equally disappointed Sixers fan. As we chatted, one of the residents joined in the conversation. We talked about our favorite players and moved on to football and he told us about his favorite teams and players. Our conversation turned to our families and he told us about his new granddaughter. Then he stopped and said that he wished he could show us pictures but they were all on the new smart phone his son had given him which he lost in the fire.

I reminded him that the great thing about living in this day and age is that cherished photos on cell phones are digital and can be retrieved. He agreed and told us that talking with us had allowed him, briefly, to forget about everything he had lost. He told us that the fire had started from his apartment and you could see the pain in his face as he relived the events of the night before.

I quickly changed the subject and Greg and the resident told me about their favorite Philadelphia stores growing up.

It was during that conversation I realized that what volunteers provide, more than a warm meal or a cot and blanket is compassion. Losses in a fire can be devastating and the Red Cross provides support. We reach out to someone who is suffering and ease their worries, remind them of what they still have and help them keep going. The ability to reach out to someone who is suffering and maybe for a time, ease their worries and remind them of all the things they have not lost and to keep going.